New technologies always have been used to improve the education experience, and Flare3D is not the exception, some months ago we talked with Zachery Allen, Project Manager for National Energy Center of Excellence at Bismarck State College (BSC), and he showed us a couple of fantastic demos made with Flare3D. BSC offers degreed energy programs and one bachelor of applied science in energy management and the dev team, found in Flare3D a flexible tool to generate 3D interactive content and simulations. They create interactive applications and videos that are used in different training courses.
Create 3D content for educational purposes is not easier. We talk with Zachery about his experience using Flare3D and the way it is used in their projects.
Why did you choose use 3D and why Flare3D as engine? Is this a new experience into the classroom or have you had a previous experience with other similar technologies?
Bismarck State College has been offering online courses and degree programs in the Energy Industry since 2000. As part of this offering, the college has put significant effort into what we call Interactive Learning Tools (ILTs). ILTs range from animations to remote laboratories. In 2010, we added 3D capability to our team using Autodesk 3ds Max. Our users are online students so we need to deploy our ILTs using standard web platforms. Since Adobe Flash is our preferred authoring tool and rendering our 3D projects to scripted videos was not the experience we wanted for our students, we began to search for other methods to present our 3D projects to our students. This is when we found Flare3D. Although we evaluated other products, Flare3D seemed the most mature and had the support (examples, wiki and forums) needed take our existing Flash and 3ds Max knowledge and allow us to create fully immersive and interactive 3D ILTs.
How was the experience teaching Flare3D? Was it hard to learn? Did your students get quick results?
We are still integrating Flare3D into our development team. Since we are a team of multiple developers and graphic designers we typically prototype then template new systems/technologies. In the case of Flare3D, we have established publishing procedures for 3ds Max, created Flash templates, and created reusable AS3 classes that the developers and designers can use to create new interactive 3D projects.
The most difficult part of working with Flare3D was the fact that the Flash developers tended to over-think and be intimidated by 3D. To rectify this situation, any time we use a 3D model used in Flash we first create custom AS3 classes that have non-3D properties. For example working with a valve in 3D space requires knowledge of 3D concepts and the Flare3D API. However, the valve also has to be operated by a user and be part of a larger simulation model. Our solution is to write a valve class that has all the 3D functionality provided by Flare3D, but abstracts it from the Flash designers and developers by providing simple functions and properties such as “open” and “close”. This allows our non-3D Flash developers and designers to use 3D in their projects without having to worry about 3D. This extra step takes some time but allows us to leverage our existing Flash and AS3 expertise without having to train all our developers on 3D and Flare3D. It also provides us with a reusable library of 3D object classes making subsequent development easier and less time consuming. As an example of how well this works, it now takes only hours to produce a 3D flythrough from the time we receive the 3ds Max model.
You showed us two different demos that involves gaming and 3D simulation, both with educational purposes. Could you tell me about the people that participated on the development and the amount of time that you spent working on it?
The demos that we showed you were created by Bismarck State College’s Curriculum Development Center (CDC); a team of 5 developers, designers, and programmers. The projects started as requests from Faculty who desired the tools for their courses. After an initial design and data gathering phase, the 3D model was developed by our 3D designer using 3Ds Max. Once complete, the model was exported to the Flare3D format and sent to our AS3 developers and graphic designers. The next task was to create the 3D base classes (such as movement, scaling, loading, etc.) then integrate the 3D objects into AS3 objects for the designers and simulation modelers. This last step allows our graphic designers to work with the objects in 3D space without having to know 3D or anything about 3D space. The simulation models (a hydraulic model for the pipe pig project) were created simultaneously while the graphic designers developed the user interface. The last step of development was merging the 3D models, the simulation models, and the user interfaces. The projects were then sent to the original requesting Faculty for functional testing. After a debug period and review the projects were moved into production and added to our online courses.
In the case of the pipe pig project, three CDC members, one Faculty member, and one engineer were engaged in the development over a span of around 3 to 4 months. However, this was also our first project with Flare3D and we have since dramatically decreased development times by reusing code and becoming more proficient with Flare3D.
The demos look very nice, they include polished details and shows that 3D is useful for education! Did you consider using it as new learning material for your courses?
The demos are actually real production projects requested by Bismarck State College’s Energy Faculty. In fact, they are already in courses running for our students now. They are also used as part of our marketing initiatives and industry offerings. Multiple energy companies have seen the demos (and our other 3D projects) and are very excited about the ability to use 3D environments for training and education.
Are you using Flare3D in other kind of project? (like augmented reality, control panels, real time monitoring, mobile solutions, etc… )
As we become more proficient and efficient using 3D we will be incorporating it into more of our animations, simulations, and remote laboratories (real-time monitoring and control). The Energy Industry is a critical part of peoples’ lives, so students often can’t train on real equipment. Bismarck State College has led the way in developing interactive tools to replace the hands-on training that is needed by students. 3D will play a large role in providing students the ability to learn concepts, equipment, and procedures that they do not have access to in real life.
Flare3D has allowed us take our 3D projects and integrate them with our existing development expertise in Adobe Flash while allowing students from anywhere in the world to access our training using just a web browser. A demo of multiple types of Interactive Learning Tools (ILTs), including 3D, developed by Bismarck State College can be found here: http://www.bscenergy.com/onlinepres.
About Bismarck State College and the National Energy Center of Excellence (NECE)
The National Energy Center of Excellence (NECE) is located at Bismarck State College in Bismarck North Dakota. The NECE is home to many nationally-recognized energy industry degree and training programs. The NECE offers eleven degreed energy programs and one bachelor of applied science in energy management degreed program, as well as certificate programs.
On-campus degree students use our world-class, one-of-a-kind lab equipment designed to prepare the next generation of energy industry employees.
Online degree students enjoy the flexibility of completing courses or a degree program built for those who cannot attend on-campus courses. The online courses offer simulations, 3D animations, discussions and real-time lab sessions operating real equipment to offer the participant the same hands-on experience as the on-campus students.
The NECE also offers a wide range of industry training options to assist in maintaining certification and training requirements, educating new hires or as a supplement to existing training programs.